The Middle as a Basic Voice System

Those of you who have followed this blog for any period of time know that one of my keen interests (along with word order, phrase structure, verbal semantics, & pronouns) is the Greek voice system. I found a pdf version of an article online this evening that I had wanted to read for some time. The book is virtually impossible to find. The only place you can buy it is HERE (if you’re willing/able to navigate the Spanish).

Anyway, the article in question is entitled: “Middle as a Basic Voice System,” available at the author’s webpage: HERE.

How is this article relevant to those of us studying Greek? Well, Rutgar Allan in his The Middle Voice in Ancient Greek: A Study of Polysemy (Amsterdam Studies in Classical Philology) argued that unlike other languages, the Greek Middle voice is not derived from a reflexive. This article by Maldonado makes the same case at a broader level working in Spanish and other Romance languages. Treating the Middle as a basic form rather than derived has huge implications for what our grammatical descriptions of Greek look like and how we go about teaching the middle voice.

6 thoughts on “The Middle as a Basic Voice System

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  1. Were you aware/have you read these works:

    Hillendahl, Gregory Manning: “Systemic model of the middle voice of the Greek of the New Testament”

    George J. Clines’ thesis “Middle voice in the New Testament” – you can find this one on his faculty page for Gordon Conwell. Here’s the abstract:

    The middle voice in Greek has no exact parallel in the English language. Scholars disagree about both its essential significance and its various usages as dictated per context. The notion of voice interchange, i.e., usage of a middle voice with an active meaning apart from the issue of deponency, is the primary controversy. Translational and interpretive problems apart from voice interchange are treated as secondary. Historical argumentation, clarification of the notion of voice in general, and a removal of misconceptions regarding the names of the voices are the foundation upon which ensuing argumentation rests. The historical development of the middle voice as well as usage invalidate the concept that the middle voice is middle in meaning between the active and passive voices. The middle voice is older than the passive and has fluctuated in meaning with significant passage of time. Regarding meaning of the middle voice, the suggestions of transitiveness and general reflexivity are deemed as inadequate or misleading. Although the concepts of special advantage and subject participation in the results may at times be involved, these ideas are not inherent to the middle itself. In fact, an examination of the true middles in the NT fails to reveal a prescriptive definition applicable to every occurrence. Instead, a basic notion of the middle voice as an intensification in some manner or degree of the relationship between the subject and the action expressed by the verb serves as a valid general guideline. The absence or presence, degree, and manner of this intensification is determined by the historical development of the verb, the verbal idea itself, and the particular context.

    Haven’t had a chance to really look at either of these, but figured you would be interested if you didn’t know about them.

    1. Yeah, I’ve heard of the former and read the latter, though it was some time ago. There are some good things in Cline, but I disagree with his conclusion about the basic meaning as “intensification.” And while the argument that we should be using Classical distinctions for describing the NT period, this idea assumes that the standard Classical descriptions are correct–Rutgar Allan in his book showed that is not the case and his presentations of usages is relatively parallel to those of Cline.

    1. Yes, that was my thought exactly, its a very different approach than how I remember learning Spanish. Sadly, these days I’m definitely not a speaker and I’m barely a Spanish reader…

  2. The title “Systemic model of the middle voice of the Greek of the New Testament” was a thesis that I did under the supervision of Stan Porter in 1991. My work utilized Barber’s 1975 article. I notice that Allen (2003) also used Barber. Allen observed that “subject-affectedness” is what Barber noted to be the essence of the middle voice. This is something that I also mentioned in my thesis, except that earlier in Barber’s article she stated the following: “The middle voice, by contrast [to the passive], seems to function fundamentally as a strategy for marking identities between the surface subject and other NP [noun phrases] in the sentence proposition.” [emphasis added] (p. 17). Thus, following Barber, I suggested that “identity” was the primary function of the middle voice: “The most succinct statement that can be made is that the middle voice seems to function fundamentally to mark an identity between the subject and the object of the verbal action. Or, restated, the middle voice calls attention to the subject as somehow being in a special, or close, relation or connection to the action.” (p. 19 of my thesis.)

    One of the issues that I dealt with in my thesis was the precise term to use for concept of the middle voice. I presented and analyzed several options, two of the prominent ones being “subject-affectedness” and “identity.” These two seemed to be the two best options, and which option to choose was, admittedly, a difficult one. I decided on “identity” because I felt that “affectedness” seemed to imply an excess notion of passivity, which was true only for the passive voice. Nevertheless, Allen’s “subject-affectedness” is certainly a valid choice.

    In the mean time I switched from the issues relating to grammar to a focus on rhetoric and the Gospel of John, which I have been pursuing for a number of years (currently in the middle of PhD thesis). And yet I still have a fond interest in NT Greek grammar.

    I had the opportunity to discuss the current issues in Greek voice with Con Campbell one on one at the 2014 SBL meeting in San Diego, and decided to take a another look at what I had written versus some of the contemporary thinking. Due to my current commitments with the FG, however, I’ve been unable to devote sufficient time and energy to fine-tune my thinking. (I still believe that the systemic network model that I devised is reasonably solid.) Certainly, the issue of deponency is one that probably still needs attention. I did use the concept of markedness in my thesis, borrowing from what Stan did in his work on verbal aspect. Con was helpful in directing me to some of the problems with that concept, though I haven’t been able to follow up on that either. It may help with deponency, but that would need to be worked out. (I haven’t kept up on the literature on that issue; perhaps someone has followed that and can provide sources.)

    1. Hi Greg,

      Thanks for the comment.

      My wife (and occasional co-author here) is completing her thesis on middle voice right now. She also has a substantial chapter in The Greek Verb Revisited that deals primarily with θη forms, but is wholly relevant to the entire middle system. To my mind, deponency is not even a category worth using any more. Bernard Taylor’s essays on the topic have basically settled things there.

      Some of the important literature published after 1991:

      Allan, Rutger J. The Middle Voice in Ancient Greek: A Study in Polysemy. ASCP 11. Amsterdam: Gieben, 2003.

      Aubrey, Rachel. Motivated Categories, Middle Voice, and Passive Morphology. In The Greek Verb Revisited. Edited by Steven E. Runge and Christopher J. Fresch. Bellingham, WA.: Lexham Press, 2016.

      Conrad, Carl W. “New Observations on Voice in the Ancient Greek Verb.” newobsancgrkvc.pdf.

      García Ramón, José Luis. “From Aktionsart to Aspect and Voice: On the Morphosyntax of the Greek Aorists with -η- and -θη-.” Pages 149–82 in The Greek Verb: Morphology, Syntax, and Semantics: Proceedings of the 8th International Meeting of Greek Linguistics, Agrigento, October 1–2, 2009. Edited by Annamaria Bartolotta. BCLL 128. Leuven: Peeters, 2014

      Kemmer, Suzanne. The Middle Voice. TSL 23. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1993.

      Klaiman, M. H. Grammatical Voice. CSL 59. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

      Kulikov, Leonid. “Passive and Middle in Indo-European: Reconstructing the Early Vedic Passive Paradigm.” Pages 62–81 in Passivization and Typology: Form and Function. Edited by Werner Abraham and Larisa Leisiö. TSL 68. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2006.

      Manney, Linda Joyce. The Middle Voice in Modern Greek. SLCS 48. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2000.

      Næss, Åshild. Prototypical Transitivity. TSL 72. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2007.

      Shibatani, Masayoshi. “On the Conceptual Framework for Voice Phenomena.” Linguistics 44 (2006): 217–69.

      Shibatani, Masayoshi. “Voice.” Pages 1145–1165 in Morphology: An International Handbook on Inflection and Word-Formation; Volume 2. Edited by Geert Booij, Christian Lehmann, Joachim Mugdan, Wolfgang Kesselheim, and Stavros Skopeteas. HSK 17.2. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2004.

      Shibatani, Masayoshi, ed. Passive and Voice. TSL 16. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1988.

      Taylor, Bernard A. “Deponency and Greek Lexicography,” 167–176 in Biblical Greek Language and Lexicography: Essays in honor of Frederick W. Danker. Edited by Bernard A. Taylor, John A. L. Lee, Peter R. Burton, Richard E. Whitaker. Eerdmans, 2004.

      Taylor, Bernard A. “Greek Deponency: The Historical Perspective,” SBL Annual Meeting, Greek Language and Linguistics Section, Atlanta, GA, November, 2010.

      Tsunoda, Tasaku and Taro Kageyama. Voice and Grammatical Relations: In Honor of Masayoshi Shibatani. TSL 65. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2006.

      Hope there’s something useful there for you!

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